I’m reading a book series where the characters sometimes swoon, generally from the loss of blood due to an eighteenth-century battle injury via musket ball or broadsword. It’s very swashbuckling.
Do people faint in real life, or only in books?
My sister passed out in front of an elevator after giving blood once. She woke up sitting on the ground, staring at some people who were staring back at her.
The only time I’ve ever fainted was in a sealing room in the temple. Too much kneeling. I started feeling waves of death-nausea crash over me as I frantically wondered when the sealer was going to wrap it up. I compelled a speedy wrapping-up by blacking out.
My husband caught me because he is nothing if not an über gentleman, genetically programmed to rescue ye olde swooning wife. I awoke to men peering over me with a glorious, yet tasteful crystal chandelier winking behind their heads.
Have you ever lain on the floor in the temple? It’s weird. You’re not supposed to be lying on the velvety white carpet staring at the chandelier while men in white delicately attend to you. My friend, Shilo, gave me a concerned smile. I felt like the biggest idiot ever.
About that time, a temple-ready paramedic of sorts came whooshing into the room in an all-white ensemble, down to his white tennies. He was out of breath from running up several flights of stairs from the bowels of the temple where he apparently paces, nobly waiting for the call to help fainting women.
I was assured that too much kneeling has resulted in many a fainting person. Okay, terrific. No wonder this guy is always on standby.
I was asked repeatedly if I was pregnant. Nope. Just nope. Did I sense disappointment that it wasn’t an early pregnancy-induced swoon? Sorry to disappoint everybody, guys. My uterus was vacant.
I was offered orange juice and assisted to the couch. When I still couldn’t feel my feet or hands twenty minutes later, the EMT in the gleaming white kicks produced a wheelchair and pushed me to an elevator. We exited in the basement where we passed a pallet of toilet paper roughly the size of our first home, a bungalow in Sugarhouse.
A kind woman manning the first-aid room went to retrieve my things from the locker room and left me staring at two cots covered in hand-crocheted white blankets upon which rested official signs which read, “Cots are sterile. Please do not sit or lie on them.”
I assumed they were referring to weary temple workers in search of a nap and not me, but I felt like I should avoid them anyway, leaving them sterile for a real emergency. You know, like somebody in diabetic shock or an actual pregnant woman going into labor.
My husband pulled the car to a loading dock where I was bundled into our car like laundry.
And that’s my story of passing out at the temple.
If I were writing my life as a novel, though, that’s not where I would put the swooning. There are two real-life moments in my life when I should have passed out, wanted to pass out and lose consciousness for even a minute.
But I did not swoon.
If I were writing my life as fiction, the two fainting scenes would be:
First, when my youngest son was born prematurely, specifically when the pediatrician stood at the far end of my hospital room and told me my baby couldn’t breathe and was being transported to a bigger hospital. Everything went dim. The room spun around slowly and crookedly. I remained sitting, eyes blinking, breath ragged, body sore and weak, in my hospital bed.
Second, the day the psychiatrist diagnosed my third child with autism, anxiety, and developmental delay. His older brother, my second son, had been diagnosed with a rare, debilitating syndrome, as well as autism, years before. Two of my children had special needs. The floor opened up like a sprung trapdoor, and I was falling through the dark.
I did not swoon.
I never lost consciousness. I asked the psychiatrist reasonable-sounding questions. I appeared fine. No one offered me orange juice or a wheelchair ride to my car. I took my son by the hand and walked outside in a quiet stupor.
My husband talked me down off the precipice as I drove home from the university’s behavioral health clinic that day. He was solid and accepting of it, just minutes after the diagnosis. “We already knew this,” he said gently. “Now it’s just official. We are getting Charlie the help he needs.”
The days that followed looked like this:
I put on makeup and cried it off.
I wore sweat pants.
I prayed silently and often for the energy to face my life another day.
I used dark chocolate in a “stick and carrot” manner to motivate myself.
I made arrangements for Charlie to be placed in an autism classroom in the school district.
I arranged for two of my boys to ride a bus to two different special needs classrooms.
I signed two Individualized Education Plans.
I posted a selfie of Charlie and me on Instagram and told the world we now had two boys with special needs.
My neighbor Brittany brought me a raspberry chipotle chicken salad.
My neighbor Chris brought me a key-lime tart.
My friend Terra texted me from far away, and said she knew I could do it, that I already was doing it.
People commented with love on my Instagram photo.
I guess I sort of did swoon, and people did catch me.
Life became an open door banging in the wind.
Oddly, in that hour of anguish, I worried that others would see our family as simply too needy. We were already known as the family who dealt in Code Browns and severe behavior issues.
We had entered the world of special needs parenting when my second son was born. His pervasive disabilities had long ago separated us from the regular life we’d envisioned as newlywed students and then as young parents of one practically perfect boy. Now we had four sons, two with vastly different needs.
We were nomads. This was a wilderness.
I often thought of a passage from These Is My Words, one of my top five favorite books currently on the earth. I’d read it with my neighborhood book club a few years before, and an image kept returning to me. Sarah Agnes Prine, the frontierswoman and nineteenth-century narrator, found a hard life in the desert of the American Southwest. She spoke of a lonely tree on an exposed hill.
My friends, that tree was me:
“Sometimes I feel like a tree on a hill, at the place where all the wind blows and the hail hits the tree the hardest. All the people I love are down the side aways, sheltered under a great rock, and I am out of the fold, standing alone in the sun and the snow. I feel like I am not part of the rest somehow, although they welcome me and are kind. I see my family as they sit together and it is like they have a certain way between them that is beyond me. I wonder if other folks ever feel included yet alone.”
I was planted on a wind-swept hill, and lightning had struck. Twice.
It is only with the passage of time from my youngest son’s premature birth and Charlie’s traumatic diagnosis that I can close my eyes and envision my family’s growth through the lens of distance.
I became, during this time, something pummeled like sea glass. Every day was an exercise in surviving meltdowns and bathroom blowouts, in finding a way through the anxiety that ruled our house while balancing the needs of my other boys. Our house echoed with screaming from anxious children and sometimes, from me.
My life was absorbed by the collective, urgent needs of my unusual children: therapy, endless potty training, frequent doctor’s appointments, meeting sensory integration needs, and chasing escapees down the street. These were the ocean, sanding my surfaces with grit and salt, smoothing my edges, rounding me out.
Raising children with disabilities is a master class in humility. It is an advanced seminar in letting go of control. I can’t fix my children’s deficits, nor do I believe that God wants me to fix them. My intuition tells me that he gave our family these challenges because we wanted them. He sent us to earth to grow and we shouted for joy at this prospect.
Now that we are here in the thick of it, I recognize that my children have schooled me in meekness. They’ve taught me that raising them is beyond my mortal abilities; I need to tap into the power of a divine source. The source. I need to draw deeply from the well of the atonement for the strength to continue.
My boys and I need each other, to remind us to look to God for the answers.
Just weeks ago, our youngest son also received an autism diagnosis.
As his parents, we weren’t surprised. We suspected it well before the official confirmation. My four-year-old’s placement on the spectrum was the manifest destiny of our family’s process of acceptance.
My personal response was markedly different this time. I felt peace. My limbs and my mind seemed to operate with the support of unseen helpers who buoyed me up. A sense of calm stayed with me.
My perspective shifted during the vast growth period from which I’d emerged. I understood that a diagnosis does not signal a deficient spirit. On the contrary, a diagnosis may reveal valiance and purity.
With three of my four boys on the autism spectrum, I have sloughed off unnecessary things. I am not strong enough to carry them along with the rest of my load. Bitterness, envy, and an unwillingness to forgive have been tossed from my figurative covered wagon. I’ve left beside the trail ingratitude, a tendency to judge, and any attachment to material things. There is no room.
Only essentials remain—vital things, like devotion, love, and Jesus.
I am gentler with other people. I am gentler with myself. I am grateful for the smallest gifts and the most subtle victories. I see beauty in hardship as it reveals our true selves.
Life does not unfold crisply, as a map. It weathers us and wrinkles our naive plans.
I am still a tree rooted on a wild, windy hill. Sometimes my leaves lie still and my branches stop swaying. The sky is an inky page above me scrawled with a starry script. I can look up and feel God gazing at me in this open place.
He sees me. I feel it.